TWO BITS: Robinson hype, Florida’s future

1 » Offering up some observations ahead of the 2014-15 college basketball campaign, CBSSports.com‘s Jon Rothstein opened up his most recent column by spotlighting five-star forward Devin Robinson (Christchurch, VA) and the impact he is likely to have on the Florida Gators this season.

1. Florida’s Devin Robinson is being undervalued nationally

We’re about three weeks away from the start of practice and it feels like Devin Robinson isn’t even scheduled to play this season. Many people including myself have hyped — and with good reason — the incoming freshmen at Kentucky (Karl Towns, Trey Lyles, Tyler Ulis, Devon Booker) but when you watch Robinson play you’ll realize that he doesn’t just have a chance to be one of the best freshmen in the SEC. He has a chance to be one of the best freshmen in the country. Blessed with freakish length at 6-feet-8 along with a terrific second jump, the Virginia native is the type of high-level athlete that has a chance to immediately start for the Gators in his first year of college basketball. Versatile enough to play either forward spot, Robinson has big-time upside and is only scratching the surface of where he’ll be in a few seasons. Long, active, and always around the ball, this is the type of player that Billy Donovan will use to guard multiple positions on defense for as long as he’s in Gainesville. Think Devin Ebanks with more offense.

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The Silver Lining for Wednesday, August 27

Florida basketball staff reloads

Gators head basketball coach Billy Donovan knew for a while that he would have two staffers leaving the program this offseason, and it all became a reality last week when assistant to the head coach Mark Daigneault and video coordinator Oliver Winterbone both departed to join the Oklahoma City Thunder organization.

Daigneault was hired as the head coach of the Thunder’s D-League affiliate, the 66ers, while Winterbone accepted a basketball information analyst position with Oklahoma City’s front office. (The 66ers are moving from Tulsa to Oklahoma City this season.)

Donovan did not wait long to fill the staffing holes and keep his machine running.

On Tuesday, ESPN.com’s Jeff Goodman reported that Donovan will hire veteran assistant coach Billy Schmidt to fill the off-court assistant position vacated by Daigneault.

Schmidt has spent the last 11 seasons coaching under Brian Gregory including eight at Dayton and the last three at Georgia Tech. He was Gregory’s first hire, joining the Flyers after spending nine seasons coaching in major conferences. Schmidt’s journey began as a manager with Wake Forest (1988-92) but continued with stops at Tennessee (1994-97), Northwestern (1997-2000) and under Tommy Amaker both at Seton Hall (2000) and Michigan (2001-03).

OnlyGators.com learned Monday evening that Donovan has also desired to hire Peter Gash to replace Winterbone as video coordinator.

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Thunder hire two Gators basketball staffers

Two four-year staff members of the Florida Gators basketball team will leave their jobs to take positions with the NBA‘s Oklahoma City Thunder.

On Friday, the Thunder announced that Mark Daigneault, an assistant to head coach Billy Donovan, would take over the head coaching job of Oklahoma City’s NBA D-League affiliate, the 66ers.

“Mark has placed a high value on development throughout his career and we feel that he is well aligned with the goals of our organization,” said team senior vice president and general manager Sam Presti. “His experience at Florida under Coach Donovan has provided him the platform to apply his intelligence and relationship skills to help strengthen the program. We are excited about Mark joining the organization and continuing his professional growth.”

Daigneault, 29, was not a court coach at Florida but instead helped players with their off-the-court needs and scouted prospects. He also worked with Donovan as a USA Basketball staffer, serving the same role. Prior to his time at UF, Daigneault worked with Connecticut’s basketball program as a student and spent three seasons as an assistant coach at Holy Cross.

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FOUR BITS: soccer, Florida-Georgia, Donovan

1 » The 2014-15 athletic season officially kicks off for the Florida Gators on Friday at 7 p.m. when the No. 8 Florida soccer team hosts the Miami Hurricanes at James G. Pressly Stadium in Gainesville, Florida. Gators soccer will be kicking off its 20th season, all of which have been led by head coach Becky Burleigh. Florida returns all 11 starters from 2013 with sophomore forward Savannah Jordan looking to build on her incredible freshman campaign. UF shared the 2013 Southeastern Conference Championship with Texas A&M and has been voted as the preseason favorite to repeat. Florida has won 13 SEC regular-season titles including seven of the last eight dating back to 2006.

2 » The school will be holding its first-ever Rally in the Swamp student pep rally on Sunday, Aug. 24 at 7 p.m., six days before the Gators kick off their 2014 season against the Idaho Vandals on Saturday, Aug. 30. The event will include “Florida cheerleaders and dazzlers, mascots, head coach Will Muschamp and members of the Gator[s] football team.” While there, “students will learn some of the great traditions” of the program, distribute student section t-shirts, win prizes and eat pizza. As OnlyGators.com first reported on Wednesday, there are approximately 2,000 student tickets still remaining out of the school’s allotment of 21,500. According to executive associate athletics director Mike Hill, Florida has sold out its student section every season during his 21-year tenure with the program.

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The Silver Lining for Wednesday, August 20

Couple thousand student season tickets remain unsold

Attendance at sporting events is a growing problem across the nation, and the Florida Gators have been attempting to do whatever they can to try and address the issue in order to reach full capacity at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium each week.

Florida has wired the stadium to drastically improve cellular phone reception (though high-speed wireless internet, at a cost of about $3 million, has not yet been implemented throughout the stadium), begun offering more affordable tickets to recent graduates, opened spring and fall practices to all comers and even formed a council of boosters and students to ensure the program is doing everything it can to get its tickets sold.

UF also worked with the Southeastern Conference and its television partners to ensure that its early-season games were played in the late afternoon or evening, rather than the grueling early-afternoon heat.

Unfortunately for the Gators, the problem has only continued to grow. What was once limited to declining season ticket sales from boosters, those unwilling to spend thousands of dollars to get a couple of seats in The Swamp on Sunday, has now jumped across the field to the student section.

A Florida spokesman told OnlyGators.com last week that the school had “a couple thousand” student season tickets unsold with just two weeks to go before the start of the season. Pressed for a more specific number with 10 days left, the spokesman divulged this week that there are approximately 2,000 student season tickets available (as of press time) with that number shrinking minimally each day.

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PF Noah Dickerson commits to Florida, Donovan

Updated at 5:30 p.m.

Going back to the Montverde Academy pipeline for the third time in the last four recruiting cycles, Florida Gators head coach Billy Donovan landed a big verbal commitment on Sunday when four-star power forward Noah Dickerson (Montverde, FL) announced his intention to join the program next season.

At 6-foot-8 and 245 pounds, Dickerson is rated as the No. 56 overall player in the Class of 2015 by Rivals. A one-time Georgetown commitment, he changed his mind in June and reopened his recruitment, listening to pitches from a number of schools including Florida.

In the end, Dickerson decided to play for Donovan and the Gators.

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FOUR BITS: Daigneault, Hayden, Murphy

1 » A four-year member of the Florida Gators basketball staff, Mark Daigneault is on the verge of being hired away as the head coach of the Oklahoma City Thunder’s NBA D-League team, according to ESPN.com’s Jeff Goodman. Daigneault, who served as “assistant to the head coach” under Billy Donovan, is 29 years old and never coached on the court at Florida. Instead, he was tasked with a variety of tasks including helping players with their off-the-court needs and scouting prospects. “If you work with [Donovan], whether you are a player or his staff, there is a connection that he has with you,” he told the Fitchburg Sentinel and Enterprise back in March. “He’s just one of those people that are extremely genuine and authentic. He’s about as normal a person that you can be around for someone who has experienced as much success as he has. He is very grounded and doesn’t see himself above anyone else.” Daigneault previously served as an assistant coach at Holy Cross for three seasons.

2 » The Gators basketball team participated in “strongman”-style workouts again this offseason. Some of the exercises were caught on camera and compiled below.

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Jeremy Foley sees similarities in Florida Gators coaches Will Muschamp, Billy Donovan

Drawing similarities between a coach who led a team to its worst record since 1979 with another who won back-to-back national titles is a tall task, but Florida Gators athletic director Jeremy Foley did just that in a radio interview on Thursday.

While once again expressing his complete confidence that head football coach Will Muschamp is the right man for the job, one who can turn the Gators back into a contender after leading the program to a 4-8 record in 2013, Foley explained in-depth to Buddy Martin of WOCA 1370 AM how he saw – and still sees – in Muschamp many of the characteristics that made head basketball coach Billy Donovan successful.

“I’m not saying Will and Billy are the same person, but [when I hired Muschamp] I saw the same energy, I saw the same passion, I saw the same enthusiasm, I saw the same track record in terms of he coached for some of the greats, certainly Nick Saban,” said Foley.

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